KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Young Adult literature

YA is the New Black

by Danielle Binks , July 1, 20141 Comment

Orange is the new YA

Back in 2012, Daniel Radcliffe hosted Saturday Night Live (SNL) and began his opening monologue thusly: ‘To the children who love Harry Potter, I want to say your enthusiasm was the real magic. I so enjoyed being on the journey with you. And to the adults who bought the Harry Potter books and devoured them, I just want to say… those books were for children. You were reading children’s books!’ And it was funny, because it was true. A whole slew of adult readers who perhaps hadn’t picked up a children’s book since they themselves were children, read J.K. Rowling’s series with as much enthusiasm as the young readership it was intended for.  Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series drew a similarly voracious adult fanbase.

I had begun to hope that readership hang-ups had fallen away – that it no longer mattered what age we were, because we all knew we can read any books regardless of which categories are prescribed for our age-bracket.

But apparently those of us who do read and enjoy youth literature should be ‘embarrassed’. At least that’s what Ruth Graham said in her recent clickbait article for Slate, ‘Against YA’. She warns, ‘Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.’ She also claims that adults who ‘are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature… are missing something.’

Graham’s article isn’t objectionable solely because she hasn’t even read a young adult book since she was a young adult in the 1990s (and no, her reading of The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t count. She approached Green’s book as a token foray into YA for the purposes of the article, and seemed determined to hate it from the get-go). Nor is the problem that Graham knows so little about YA that she doesn’t realise that calling it a ‘genre’ reveals her ignorance (YA is a readership, made up of an infinite number of genres).

There are a million other reasons why Ruth Graham’s piece is reprehensible, insulting and mean-spirited, but the likes of James Roy and The Washington Post have called her out on it far better than I ever could.

But you know, I’m not as mad about this anymore as I thought I’d be, and a lot of that has to do with Orange Is the New Black. Yes, the American comedy-drama series created by Jenji Kohan and based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.

Already praised as a groundbreaking TV show for its almost entirely all-female cast, and a greater display of racial diversity than anything else on the box at the moment, Orange Is the New Black (OITNB) is also breaking down readership barriers.

Books are a big part of the show, particularly because there’s not much to do while serving lengthy prison sentences except read. Many crucial scenes play out in the prison library, where a number of characters work in the stacks. The show’s characters make references to books with admirable frequency – whether it’s protagonist Piper giving away huge Atonement spoilers, or Taystee revealing her love for Jamie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. There’s even a Tumblr dedicated to ‘Books of Orange is the New Black.’

But perhaps my favourite bookish aspect of OITNB is that the inmates frequently read young adult literature too. Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov has read Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin, as well as We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt. Taystee warns a fellow inmate, ‘Don’t be fuckin’ with Harry Potter,’ as she reclaims a copy of The Goblet of Fire (She then hands over a copy of Ulysses, saying, ‘Everyone says it’s so genius, but I call it bullshit.’) Vee Parker offers The Fault in Our Stars to an inmate dying of cancer, with the mixed caveat/recommendation ‘This sick fuck is writing about kids with cancer.’

YA author Dana Reinhardt was thrilled to see her book appear on the show she’s such a fan of, ‘Seeing Red, the grand dame of Litchfield, reading my book was an absolute thrill, particularly as that moment arrived on our screens just as the debate blew up about whether adults should be embarrassed to read YA literature. Clearly Red is not embarrassed. Nor are the many other OITNB characters shown with YA novels in their hands.’

Ruth Graham may have dire warnings for adult readers of YA, but a repudiation to her argument is captured in the wise words of C.S. Lewis: ‘A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.’ The truth of this, and proof of the lasting value of contemporary young adult writing, is evident in the reading habits of OITNB’s characters.

Danielle Binks is a Melbourne-based blogger, editor and aspiring writer of young adult fiction.

ACO logo




  • http://missmaudy.wordpress.com Maudy

    I must confess I still have a weakness for school stories (which basically describes Harry Potter – school story with magic!) and it’s really the only genre that doesn’t have a grown up equivalent.

    I can’t see the issue with adults reading YA because hello, READING. And people who read one thing start to look for other things they might like and those things might not be YA novels. They might not be ‘literature’ but they’re reading books and thinking about what they read and reading is good.

9781863957434

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their June picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

lisa-gorton_the-life-of-houses

James Tierney

A Novel of Longer Exhalations: Lisa Gorton’s The Life of Houses

It’s sometimes said that each book teaches you how to read it. That each way of telling a story needs to not only beguile anew but needs to tutor the reader in the ways to best attend its pages. Read more »

9781743316337

Danielle Binks

Finding Books for Young Readers: The Reading Children’s Book Prize

James Patterson once said, ‘There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading and kids who are reading the wrong books.’ So how do we get the right books into the hands of budding bibliophiles? Well, the Readings Children’s Book Prize Shortlist is a great place to start. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

2691149967_01b38304f3_b

Rebecca Shaw

Fuck Yeah: Swearing like a lady

I had been trying to pinpoint exactly why the HBO television show Veep brings me such joy. Yes, it is a very funny, very well-written show with a great cast, but that didn’t quite go far enough in explaining the immense enjoyment it gives me. The eureuka moment finally struck when I stumbled over a compilation video of the best insults from the show. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

kim-kardashian-selfish-cover-main

Brodie Lancaster

We Are All Kardashians

For the past five years, I have loved and been obsessed with the Kardashians. Specifically, the E! reality series that made them famous. I often feel the need to intellectualise why I like these series and the people on them – you know, because I’m not a moron, and these are shows about morons, for morons. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »

Orlando #2 - THE RABBLE

Jane Howard

This Is a Story of Artistic Excellence

This is a story of the first four plays I saw at Malthouse Theatre. It’s a story that can only continue as long as support for independent artists continues; it’s a story that can only keep growing as long as support for independent artists grows. It’s a story of where artistic excellence comes from, and how we get to see it on our main stages. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »